With less than two months before the presidential election in November, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life invited two senior researchers and a group of leading journalists to discuss recent findings on the role religion is playing in the presidential race.
Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, said that the Republican ticket has gained traction in the polls since the Republican National Convention and the announcement of Sarah Palin as the GOP vice presidential nominee. But he added that background data on religious views and party affiliation reveal a slightly less socially conservative and less Republican public that is unhappy with the economy and other issues.
John Green, a senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum, shared findings on the religious identification and candidate preference of potential voters. He focused in particular on swing voters, or “persuadables,” and argued that while the 2004 presidential election largely depended on voter turnout among base constituencies, the 2008 election may hinge on the decisions of independent voters.
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Navigate this transcript:
Race tightens; Palin generates enthusiasm
“Fundamental” trends continue to favor Democrats
Republican and evangelical views of working mothers
“Persuadable” voters and their interests and affiliations
Catholics remain key swing voters
Public opinion on Palin’s religion
Will the Saddleback Forum influence voters?
Mobilizing the base versus winning independents
Aren’t social conservatives disillusioned?
Is race a hidden factor?
Will Palin alienate independents?
Defining evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals
Has McCain won over Catholics?
LUIS LUGO: Good afternoon to all of you and thank you for coming. I’m Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which is a project of the Pew Research Center. The Center is a research organization that is nonpartisan in nature. It does not take positions on issues. This luncheon is part of the Forum’s mission of bringing together journalists and policy leaders to discuss timely topics at the intersection of religion and public life.
We are assisted in that task of moderating these discussions by E.J. Dionne and Michael Cromartie. Michael, it’s good to have you with us. E.J. is not here. We always need balance, so we’ll assign Amy Sullivan as designated hitter for E.J. today. Make sure he doesn’t get away with anything, Amy.
With the election only eight short weeks away, I’m pleased to welcome you today to a discussion of religion in the presidential campaign. The quest for religious voters has been a permanent story, as you know, in the current campaign, both on the Republican and the Democratic side. So in this discussion, we want to look at what the numbers are showing, with respect to the various groups, from white evangelicals and Catholics to black Protestants, Jews, the unaffiliated and everyone in between. We also want to discuss what the important issues are for these voters, what trends we are seeing and what they might portend for Election Day, and how this election compares to previous campaigns when it comes to the role of religion.
To help us explore these and related questions, we are delighted to have two of our own in-house experts. Many of you already know these folks from your own reporting.
Scott Keeter is the director of survey research here at the Pew Research Center. While he provides guidance to all the center’s projects, and to us probably more than anybody else, Scott’s main employment is with the sister project, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, where he works very closely with Andy Kohut. Scott has been an election-night analyst of exit polls for NBC News – and this has to be a misprint – since 1980. You can’t possibly be that old. Was that a high school internship assignment or something, Scott? That’s impressive.
The other speaker is John Green, who is senior fellow in religion and American politics here at the Pew Forum. He also serves as director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in that great battleground state of Ohio.
This is meant to be a conversation, and we have asked the speakers to keep their formal remarks brief so we have plenty of time for your comments and questions. Before I turn it over to our experts, I would like to point you toward our religious and political profiles of both parties’ candidates for president and vice president, as well as an in-depth religious profile of Alaska, which I hope you will find both interesting and helpful. You may be wondering, where in the world do we come up with this information? Well, we invent it when we don’t have it. Actually, it’s from the mega survey we did, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which included a sample of 200 Alaskans. By the way, we also have information on Hawaii, if you’re interested in that. I think you will find the religious profile of Alaska quite interesting, and maybe it will shed some light on Governor Palin’s couple years as governor in that state.
Scott, why don’t we start with you first?
SCOTT KEETER: Thank you, Luis. I’m delighted to be here, and I’m delighted that all of you are here today. I think it goes without saying that the political conventions this year shook up the landscape, and especially, probably, the Republican Convention. After a somewhat shaky start, given the hurricane, it turned out to be the big event of the two, with two tremendous TV audiences for the speeches on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I don’t know if you had the same reaction I did, but the size of the television audience on both nights, perhaps especially for [John] McCain’s speech following on the heels of Palin’s speech, was really stunning. With that many eyeballs on such an interesting event, it’s no surprise we’re seeing in the polls a considerable change in the rankings.
We have a number of polls in, though not one from the Pew Research Center. We are going to be going into the field this week and will be reporting back next week, to hopefully offer a view of settled public opinion, or at least more settled than it happens to be right now. But we’ve learned a lot from the polls we’ve seen in the last few days. You’re all familiar with them, of course, because you’re probably connected to RealClearPolitics or Pollster.com in the same way that I am on my computer, but the quick summary is they all show the horse race either tied or with a tight McCain lead; a significant convention bounce for the Republicans, probably more significant than the Democrats got out of theirs briefly before the Republicans came on the air; and very high approval of Palin’s selection as the vice presidential candidate.
One of the most important changes in public opinion from before to now, from a political point of view, and speaking to a point we reiterated all through the fall, spring, and summer, is that her selection appears to have generated a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the ticket, beyond simply moving some of the top-line numbers. The fact that you have people more people now saying they support McCain strongly or enthusiastically is a very significant change. Even though he still does not quite match [Barack] Obama in overall levels of enthusiasm in the polls I’ve looked at, the numbers are dramatically different from what they were a week ago.
The CBS poll, which was a re-review of people interviewed before the convention, found, for example, that among evangelicals, the number now saying they enthusiastically supported the ticket is 48 percent. Among the same people interviewed prior to the convention, it was only 24 percent. So McCain achieved a doubling of the level of enthusiasm for the ticket among the key voter group he was already doing well with in terms of overall support – though before the convention his support among evangelicals was not particularly enthusiastic.
I should also say that Obama did himself some good in his convention in that he was able to pull in a number of Hillary supporters, according again to the CBS poll, who were on the fence at least prior to the convention. So the convention was not a bad convention for him, but perhaps just not as dramatically as good as the Republican Convention was for McCain.
There is one really remarkable number I have seen in the polling from a couple of organizations and that is the fact that the generic horse race between the Democrats and the Republicans for the House of Representatives is now almost tied. For the last several months – really, from the entire season starting in the fall of last year, we had been talking about the degree to which the Democrats’ advantage in a generic presidential race, or in the generic House race, matched the Democratic advantage in party ID, which I’ll be making reference to here in a moment.
In both the CNN and Gallup polls that came out in the last couple of days, the Democratic advantage is now a non-significant three points, 48 to 45, I believe, among registered voters. That is a really remarkable thing, that not only has McCain engendered enthusiasm and greater support for his own candidacy and for his team, but he has pulled the Republican Party in general up with him at least for now. That is my segue to talking a little bit about the fundamentals.
I’d like to quickly review some of our polling regarding the overall landscape we have right now and then, I think, the question of whether the conventions have irretrievably changed that landscape is one we can debate. But fundamentals are fundamentals, and I think there’s a reason to believe that at least some of what we’re seeing right now may be, if not ephemeral, then at least subject to change with further events in the campaign.
I’ll go through a couple of slides very quickly. The first one shows the very low levels of national satisfaction we see in the country today. The numbers of people who say they are satisfied with the state of the nation are extraordinarily low, not necessarily lower than they were at a couple of other very important similar points in the past, but nearly so.
Nineteen percent of the people we interviewed in the most recent polls said they are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. At a comparable time toward the end of Jimmy Carter’s first term in office it was 12 percent. It was 14 percent when George H.W. Bush was facing his re-election campaign. And of course in both of those cases sitting incumbents with very low levels of national satisfaction were defeated. John McCain has the advantage of not being the incumbent, but the disadvantage of being of the same party.
Of course a lot of the reason for national dissatisfaction is the state of the economy. What I’ve shown you here is a trend going all the way back to 1992 in ratings of the state of the economy broken out by party – Democrat, Republican, and independent. There are a couple of interesting things to note here. First is just the take-away point: National satisfaction with the economy is exceedingly low. Even among Republicans it’s now down at 20 percent and, for independents and Democrats, even lower than that.
The change among Republicans has come relatively recently. For much of the last four years Republicans and then Democrats and independents have seen very different countries in terms of economic conditions. But with the problems in the stock market and in the housing and credit crises, the Republicans have joined the Democrats in being dissatisfied with the way things are going. In conditions like this we typically do not see incumbent parties winning elections.
There are a couple of other ways in which the landscape is changing, or has changed, that I wanted to highlight because I think they have some potentially direct relevance for how the Democrats will fare. Here I’d like to mention that we shouldn’t be completely focused on the presidential election, as alluring as it is, because there are a lot of other elections going on this year, and whoever wins the White House is going to have to deal with the Congress, and the Congress may end up being significantly more Democratic than it is now because of the fundamentals.
Some of the fundamentals have to do with basic political values, and we in our periodic surveys probing political values have tried to track how the public has reacted to different things over the years. We did a survey early in 2007. I don’t think the numbers would be significantly different if you did them now. But we made two or three points when we talked about this study last year. The first one is that we now see significantly more support than we did in, let’s say, the mid-1990s for the social safety net, for social welfare programs. Here are a couple of graphics that illustrate that.
Second, we are seeing some decline, even if modest, again compared with the 1990s, in socially conservative attitudes. We picked out a couple of tables here that illustrate the trend.
It’s not an enormous trend but it’s there, nonetheless. Finally we have seen some decline in expressions of religious intensity.
Here we’re showing you the percentage of people who completely agree with each of these statements, down somewhat from what they were in the mid-1990s.
Now one manifestation or driving force behind this is the fact that we are seeing a slow trend in our surveys, and we see these in other surveys, of a growth in people who are religiously unaffiliated.
In this slide I’ve charted out for you the percentage of people in our surveys over the past 20 years who identify themselves as unaffiliated. Then I’ve broken this down into different age cohorts. So the way to read the graphic is to look, first of all, in terms of the overall trend: The percentage now is about 12 percent. There’s a little footnote I’m going to have to give you on that, but it’s about 12 percent, and that represents a four percent increase over the past 20 years.
When you look within each of the age cohorts, what you see is that each new cohort coming into adulthood is significantly more unaffiliated, or less affiliated, than the one that preceded it. And second, within an age cohort, as it ages, going across the row, its level of religious affiliation is not changing. In other words, the degree to which people are affiliated with religion is something that seems to developed early in life, and not to change all that much, at least in the aggregate, for an age cohort over time.
We’re seeing this trend towards greater secular and unaffiliated status. It’s a slow one, but it’s becoming a fairly significant one, and it’s a part of the explanation for why young people are more Democratic in their affiliation than are older people.
Let me turn now to changes in the importance attached to different issues.
In our surveys back in 2004, we asked a series of questions of people, how important are each of these issues to your vote this fall. So in October of 2004 you see the list here, percentage of people saying that each of these issues is very important. We asked this question again in our most recent survey conducted in conjunction with the Pew Forum, and you see the percentage of people who say each of these is important. One of them stands out, of course, very dramatically, and that is the importance of energy, up 23 points from four years ago.
These are lower-tier issues, less important to the public overall, and the ones that have declined, or at least declined a little bit, are moral values, abortion, and gay marriage. Moral values is basically unchanged, down two percentage points. But abortion is down eight points overall from four years ago, and gay marriage down four points. Even among white evangelicals there is a bit of an erosion in the importance of abortion and a slight downtick on gay marriage.
But these issues are much more important for evangelicals than they are for the rest of the public.
Let me conclude with a quick look at another fundamental, which is party affiliation in the public.
We have talked a great deal over the past few years about the changing party-affiliation preferences of the public and, since about 2005, the sharp decline in the number of people calling themselves Republicans. In this slide I’m trying to give you a broader view, going back to 1992. What we see is the Democratic Party has a bigger advantage, 51 to 38, among people identifying with or saying they lean toward one party, than they’ve had at any time in our polling over this period of five elections. This is coming as a combination both of people no longer saying they’re Republican, and also of people who are independent then tilting more toward the Democrats than they did in the past.
The same pattern is apparent among white evangelicals, though not quite as dramatic.
Evangelicals remain a very strong Republican group, but the number who say they are Republican or lean that way is down to 62 percent from 66 percent four years ago.
Among white mainliners we see an up-tick in Democratic support, 43 percent to 45, and a five-point drop in Republican affiliation, such that they’re now tied, whereas in 2004 the Republicans had a statistically significant advantage among white mainline Protestants.
Among black Protestants there is still an overwhelming Democratic advantage.
It’s really no bigger than it’s been most of this period. But this is the one I think is being watched very closely, and that is white non-Hispanic Catholics.
In our polling thus far this year, 49 percent of the people we interviewed among white non-Hispanic Catholics say they are Democrats or lean that way, 40 percent Republicans. So this classic swing group is one that people are paying a great deal of attention to, and I think John will be talking about it in his remarks.
Jewish voters remain very Democratic in their overall levels of affiliation. We’ve not seen much change in that.
Among the [religiously] unaffiliated, the Democratic Party has a significant advantage, one that’s actually larger now than we’ve seen in our polling in the past. The unaffiliated were actually a very important part of the story of the Democratic Party’s congressional victories in 2006.
One question we get a lot is whether young evangelicals are abandoning the Republican Party, and the answer is yes and no.
Compared with 2004, we find young evangelicals are much less likely to say they are Republican or lean Republican: 64 percent now; 75 percent in 2004. So that decline is certainly very large, but it also is important to note that in comparison with the other, dimmer line, which is people 30 and older, young evangelicals remain just as committed to the Republican Party. So while they aren’t as committed as they were four years ago, there’s no real sign they’re going to turn into a Democratic constituency in any great numbers any time soon.
I’d like to just end with a little tidbit. The Pew Social Trends Survey last year explored public attitudes toward motherhood in great detail. They asked a series of questions about different trends we’re seeing in terms of the situation in families and whether people thought this was a good thing, a bad thing, or really didn’t matter much either way. So in light of the Palin nomination, I went back and took a look at the question that asked, “Do you think it’s a good thing, a bad thing, or really doesn’t matter one way or the other, that more mothers of young children are working outside the home?”
What we found is that Republicans, by a 53 to 15 margin, said it was a bad thing. Overall more people said it was bad than good, 41 to 22, but Republicans were especially negative about it.
Among evangelicals the gap was even larger, 56 percent to 14 percent. Thus it has thus been very interesting to look at the reaction to Palin’s nomination and the number of people who have said in a recent poll that they thought that it was a good thing for her, given her family situation, to take on this responsibility of running for vice president. I’m sure we’ll be looking more at this question as we move further into the fall.
LUGO: Thank you, Scott. John Green, thank you for joining us and for hanging in there despite a bad head cold.
GREEN: Thank you, Luis, and thank you, Scott. I do want to apologize for waking up this morning with an awful cold. I don’t know if I brought this to you all from Ohio, or if I picked it up from Washington. Given the prevailing mood of the country, perhaps I should blame it on Washington.
I thought I would just look at four slides, and then open it up to your comments. In many ways what I’m going to talk about fits very comfortably with what Scott talked about. I’ve identified a couple of the trends that he mentioned, and we’ll look at them in terms of the different religious groups. This slide comes from the joint survey with the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum taken at the beginning of August. We call it our annual trend survey. We’ve done that for many, many years. It was timed for early August on purpose, to be before the conventions. Little did we know how exciting the conventions would be.
So these were old data, but in many ways they provide us with a very useful baseline for talking about what may be happening now and what may be happening as we move toward the November election. On the left-hand side of the bar chart are a number of important religious groups in the United States. These groups are analogous to the groups we report on regularly at the Forum, and the People & the Press report on them as well. These are a little bit different in that we tried very hard in these numbers to isolate the effects of race and ethnicity because they’re particularly important in this election. If you look at the top of the chart you can see black Protestants, a very important Democratic constituency, and then as you move down toward the bottom of the chart, eventually you come to observant white evangelical Protestants. Observant means regular church attenders, or at least people who say they attend church once a week or more often. Sociologists have some doubt as to whether that’s entirely accurate, but such is the nature of survey responses sometimes.
Of course the blue bars, in keeping with the color coding of American politics, are those people who support the Democratic candidate, and the red bars are those who support the Republican candidate. Notice there’s five colors up there, actually, not just two. The dark blue and the dark red are the firm supporters, strong supporters of Obama and McCain, respectively. The light blue and the pink are the weak supporters, people who said they might change their mind over the course of the campaign. The dashed lines in the middle are the people who are genuinely undecided, who couldn’t tell us they had a preference one way or another.
In a lot of ways this pattern is very much like the pattern we have seen in previous surveys over the last 10 years. Each party has clear religious constituencies. There are differences based on religious affiliation, as well as on religiosity, here measured by worship attendance. Some of the smaller groups in this survey could not be broken out according to religiosity. For instance, among black Protestants, if one were to divide this up by level of worship attendance, regular-worship-attending or observant black Protestants would be a little bit more conservative, a little bit more Republican, although in this particular survey they don’t look very different from black Protestants as a whole, and I think that’s because of the Obama candidacy.
The fact that we can’t break up all of the groups by religious observance is actually not as problematic as it might seem because in many of these groups the religion gap, or the worship-attendance gap, is actually pretty small. But among the large white Christian groups – white Catholics, white evangelicals, and white mainline Protestants – that’s where you see the big impact of attendance. So these basic results don’t look all that different, but there are some nuances here that are quite important. Let me just talk about a couple of them.
There has been a tremendous emphasis lately on evangelicals, for obvious reasons. Both parties have been courting evangelical voters, and evangelical voters have displayed a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current state of things, including the Republican Party. But in this survey, as you can see by looking at the very bottom of the chart, the observant evangelicals are strongly for McCain, only a little bit lower than they were for Bush at a comparable time in the 2004 campaign. The less observant evangelicals are less for McCain, but they of course were less for Bush as well.
So there is a lot of emphasis on this group; it’s a key Republican voting bloc. If John McCain wants to win a close election, he’s going to need very strong support from that group. But in some ways the most interesting group is toward the middle: white Catholics. Here we break them up into observant and less observant, and you may not be able to notice the difference between those two lines because the difference is very small. The worship-attendance gap in these data has almost disappeared for white Catholics, and in fact the white Catholic community as a whole is very evenly divided between Obama and McCain. Quite a difference from 2004. That’s, I think, a very interesting finding.
E.J. Dionne – I wish he was here with us today – has written extensively about some of these changes in the Catholic community. These data suggest there is the possibility that Democrats may do better with white Catholics than they did in 2004. But as you all know, white Catholics are the quintessential swing voting group in the United States, at least from a religious perspective, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they swung one way or another.
Now since the Republican convention there’s been a lot of polling, which Scott alluded to. Most of the polling does not cover religion very well, but there have been some indications of where the religious groups are moving. To the extent that we have indications, it suggests that Sarah Palin has been able to cement much of the support of white evangelicals for the Republicans. But it also suggests that white Catholics have moved in a Republican direction.
The ABC-Washington Post poll showed a quite dramatic shift, with 59 percent for McCain. Scott and I were talking about that number before this event and neither of us believe it. But of course in any poll, any given number may not be strictly accurate, given all the things that go into polls. But it does suggest that if Catholics were evenly divided before the conventions, then maybe the Republicans have achieved at least some temporary gains in this very crucial group.
Now let’s consider the people in the middle, whom we call “persuadables.” These are the folks who said they might change their mind, or who told us back in early August they might change their mind or are genuinely undecided.
Specifically, let’s consider the partisanship of these persuadable voters. By the way, the number of persuadables is much higher in August 2008 compared with where it was in 2004. As Luis mentioned, I actually live in Ohio. This of course was the result of great career planning for my political-science future, living in the great battleground state of the United States. But in 2004 in Ohio, we couldn’t find an undecided voter. There probably were some but we couldn’t find them anywhere. In Ohio today, as in the nation as a whole, there are lots of undecided or persuadable voters.
One pattern is that most of the persuadable people are independents. Now that’s partly because the number of independents has grown a bit and partly because you would expect independents to be the last people to make a decision about a candidate, with the partisans moving one way or another early on. Remember, these persuadables include people who told us they had some kind of weak support for Obama or for McCain, so it’s not surprising there are some Republicans and Democrats in this pattern.
But let me point out a couple of interesting patterns. If we consider persuadable, observant white evangelicals, the number of Democrats and Republicans are about the same. McCain has managed to secure most Republicans, but among the still-persuadable evangelicals, there is a pretty even balance between Democrats, Republicans and independents, a fact that may have some bearing on the fall campaign. It may be that some of the surge we’ve seen in support for McCain since the convention has been the moving of Republicans and independents more firmly into the Republican camp, and maybe even some Democrats in the evangelical community as well.
But consider persuadable, observant white Catholics. For this group, the number of Democrats is a good bit greater than the number of Republicans. A lot of these persuadable Catholics regard themselves as Democrats. I know a lot of journalistic ink has been spilled talking about whether Senator Obama can appeal to white Catholics, particularly white working-class Catholics, particularly in the Midwest. Our data don’t allow us to break it down that firmly, but it does suggest that among the persuadable white Catholics there are a substantial number of Democrats as well as independents. So these are groups the campaigns will want to look at carefully.
Among the persuadable voters – the voters who may have moved since the conventions and who may move back again – we see there are more independents but also a fair number of Republicans and Democrats. In that sense this campaign looks very different from 2004. In the language of political operatives, this doesn’t look like a base-mobilization campaign. This looks like a campaign where there’s a lot of persuading that needs to go on, and that persuading can extend across many of these religious groups.
What could be the basis of that persuasion? Let’s turn to the symbolic issue of the culture wars, the most important of the social issues, abortion. As Scott pointed out, not as many people give abortion priority as in the past election, but still there is some divided opinion on this. Again, this is persuadables.
It’s interesting because in some religious groups, there are a large number of persuadables who are pro-life. Consider persuadable evangelicals and persuadable observant white Catholics. This gives Senator McCain and Governor Palin an opportunity to persuade people. But there are other groups, particularly mainline Protestants and less observant white Catholics among the persuadables who are, on balance, pro-choice. That may set a ceiling on how well Senator McCain and Governor Palin can do in persuading people on these issues. They may be able to attract on other issues.
The numbers suggest to me the dimensions of the role of something like abortion in the fall campaign. It works for some groups and not for others. The appeals that candidates will want to make ideally would be targeted to particular groups because a general discussion of abortion might drive away as many people as it attracts.
Let’s just consider one more issue. This is health care, where we see a similar situation. There is some variation by religious groups. Many religious groups think about basic social welfare in religious terms, and we’ve heard a lot of talk about that since 2004, particularly among progressive religious groups. But there is a majority of all these religious groups among the persuadable voters that think health insurance is a valuable issue.
This provides an opportunity for Senator Obama, who’s talked a great deal about health insurance. It also means that the McCain campaign will probably need to emphasize their positions on abortion as well among these persuadable groups across the different religious communities. In some sense what we may be seeing in this election, from the point of view of religious voters, is dueling agendas, with the Republicans emphasizing social issues, cultural issues, also foreign policy, and the Democrats emphasizing social welfare and economic policy.
We don’t want to take either of these issues – abortion or health care – too literally because there are a lot of factors that go into how people apply these types of attitudes to voting for candidates. But it does suggest that across the board in religious communities, among the persuadable voters, voters who haven’t made up their mind one way or another, that social welfare issues have the capacity to play a very important role. It wouldn’t be surprising to me at all if by the time the next survey comes out next week that we see the campaign back to where it was at the time in which this poll was taken, in early August. The convention bounces will have passed, and we may see a very even division between the candidates. One reason may be because we have this dueling agenda, and different religious groups are attracted to one party or another based upon those different issues.
LUGO: John, you dwelt a lot on the Catholic vote, the quintessential swing vote. For the Bush victory – not at a comparable period in the campaign of 2004, but the actual vote – give us the numbers for Catholics. Was it not the case that Bush won 12 percent or so of white non-Hispanic Catholics? It was in that range, and among regular church-attending or Mass-attending Catholics, it was in the mid twenties, 22 or 24 percent, something like that. Just give folks a sense of where McCain needs to go with that swing vote in order to win in November.
GREEN: Unfortunately, Luis, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but we can certainly get them. [Update: Those numbers can be found here.] I’m glad you brought that point up, it’s a very well-taken one, that Bush won an outright majority of Roman Catholics in 2004 and did very well among white Roman Catholics. Among regular Mass-attending white Roman Catholics he did even better. My memory is that among that latter group – white, regular Mass attending Catholics – Bush did in the high 50s – 58, 59 percent, maybe even a little bit higher than that. [Update: Bush won 62 percent of weekly attending non-Latino Catholics in 2004.] And that is about what the Washington Post-ABC News poll I mentioned a moment ago was showing right now for McCain here in the post-convention bounce period.
So you have a really good point. Showing the white Catholics evenly divided in early August just gives us a sense of how different this election is from 2004. This is a group that was legitimately up for grabs as we went into the conventions, and where they actually end up remains to be seen.
LUGO: For the record, Latino Catholics in ’04 went about 33 percent for Bush, which was the same percentage as 2000. So all of Bush’s gains among Latinos between 2000 and 2004 was among Latino evangelicals, among whom he did extremely well in 2004.
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: How do we measure the voter reaction or media reaction to the clips we now see of Sarah Palin preaching in her church? I remember the feeding frenzy around Rev, Wright. That was a different kind of religious expression than many Americans were accustomed to. And, I guess, so is Sarah Palin’s. What is the equivalence? Is there one? And how does this affect the vote?
KEETER: The short answer is I am not sure we are going to be able to measure that very accurately, at least until stories about that become more widespread and people are able to get a clearer view of it. The comparison with the Rev. Wright is an interesting one, but if you think back, our news-interest index polling, which is done every week and looks at the stories at the top of the news and attention paid to different figures who have been in the campaign news, showed that the Rev. Wright story was probably the most highly watched or attended story of the whole primary season.
The stories we are hearing now from here and there about Palin and her churches, including the change of her churches, which is something I think my colleagues can speak to more knowledgeably than I can, have been interesting. But I don’t think we are anywhere near the Rev. Wright phenomenon in terms of the degree of campaign attention it has gotten. So it is going to be a little hard to gauge it right now.
GREEN: I think that that is exactly accurate. So much else is happening with the Sarah Palin story that it may be hard to judge what effect her religious affiliation and these clips are having. I see at least two potential differences with the Rev. Wright story. One is that for many Americans, what they will see in these clips will seem absolutely mainstream because lots and lots of people attend those kinds of churches in the United States. And if they don’t attend them, then their friends and neighbors do, and their relatives do, and they may well have attended a church like that sometime in the past.
As I am sure you are all aware, there is a great deal of religious mobility in the United States. We have documented that in great detail in our Religious Landscape Study. But you see a real good example of that. In fact, Sarah Palin’s own biography of moving around from these various churches is a very good example of what happens to lots and lots of Americans.
Secondly, at least in the clips I have seen, we don’t have the kind of incendiary remarks that were in some of the tapes of Rev. Wright. Perhaps those things exist out there. There certainly are some Americans who would react negatively to some of the things Sarah Palin has said in those clips. But it is just not at the same level, I think. So I see two potential differences. We will have to wait and see what we can measure in polling. But I don’t think the American public, as a whole, is likely to react the same way to those examples as they did to Rev. Wright.
LUGO: Adrian, you are one of several folks here who represent a foreign news outlet, so obviously this election is drawing a lot of attention on the other side of the pond, as they say. It is great to have you.
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, THE ECONOMIST: I’m not sure how foreign we are because we actually sell more copies here than anywhere else. (Laughter.) I wanted to ask if you have any chance of measuring the impact of the Saddleback forum, which is something a lot of evangelicals will obviously watch very carefully, with a rather dismal performance, I thought, by Obama, and a much better one by McCain.
Two subsidiary questions. One is about the Pentecostal influence: Is there any way of looking at how people react to Pentecostalism? The other one is this: Evangelicals are used to being looked down upon and persecuted. It seems that the reaction to Palin was in some senses a reaction to that condescension of the awful liberal media.
GREEN: I don’t think we have any good polling on the impact of Saddleback because of where it occurred in the polling cycle. We do know that over the period in which Saddleback occurred, McCain support among white evangelicals increased slowly and steadily. Now, whether it was due to Saddleback, whether it was due to other things in the campaign – there were just a lot of things going on then, including some pretty hard-hitting commercials on the part of the McCain campaign.
My sense from talking to people is that in the evangelical community, Senator McCain’s performance at Saddleback was seen in a very positive light. Many evangelicals were very doubtful about McCain’s ability to talk about his faith and his position on various issues. And he seems to have answered those sorts of concerns.
I wouldn’t say from the point of view of evangelicals that Senator Obama’s performance was poor. Many of the evangelicals I have talked to expressed a certain admiration for his performance. The problem was they disagreed with him on the issues, and particularly his response to the issue regarding abortion, and his response to the issue regarding the nature of evil.
I am not taking a side on whether those were good answers or not, but many evangelicals were disappointed because they had hoped for a different kind of answer. They didn’t expect it to be necessarily their own answer, but they were just disappointed. Anyways, it is hard to tell in terms of public opinion what kind of impact that event had.
I think in terms of the flow of the campaign, it was extraordinary. We have never had anything quite like that. It’s funny because I was talking to a lot of journalists from Europe, and I had to remind them that the Saddleback Church event was extraordinary even by American standards, where politicians regularly go to church. To have two of them there was a very unusual thing.
LUGO: My own sense anecdotally – and we don’t have solid data on this – from talking to evangelical leaders and gauging the sense on the evangelical street, as it were, is that McCain has hit a trifecta. His performance at Saddleback was built upon by the Republican platform on things like abortion and gay marriage, and then, with the Sarah Palin nomination, I think this has really energized the evangelical base. So he has had a good run with these folks is my sense. Scott?
KEETER: I agree completely. If you think about McCain and his troubled history of interaction with the evangelical community going back to his run for president in 2000, one would have to look at McCain and say, why would the evangelical community, apart from those things, have so much suspicion about him given his very dependable pro-life record? I think the selection of Palin is an assertion of bona fides that, [his position on abortion]is indisputable.
He put his trust in a strong evangelical woman on the ticket, and simply the act of doing that, I would say, is responsible for some of what we are seeing. I don’t have any direct polling evidence for that except what has happened to the enthusiasm measures.
AMY SULLIVAN, TIME: I am very interested in these breakdowns of the persuadables. You mentioned, John, that doing it by foreign policy would show us something as well. Is there any way of telling how these persuadable voters weigh issues like abortion versus the social welfare issues versus something like foreign policy, so [we would know] that if they are persuadable on some of these issues, then which ones really motivate their votes.
KEETER: I don’t want to keep speaking without data, but I think we would probably find abortion is less important to the persuadable voters than it is to the voters who have made up their minds, just because we know the people who say abortion is important are more likely to be pro-life than they are to be pro-choice. As a result of that, I would draw the inference that the persuadables probably demote abortion, and most likely gay marriage, and maybe even moral values relative to other issues, compared to non-persuadables.
GREEN: I think that is right. Among the persuadables, there is a corresponding increase in the emphasis on economic and social welfare issues. But it is mixed, and it does vary a little bit from group to group. In retrospect, I wish we had produced that data here. Although by the time you get down to these religious groups [on particular issues,] we are talking about six or seven people. It would be cheaper to just call them up and ask them what they think – (laughter) – than do the statistical analysis here.
One of the interesting things we noticed – and Scott showed this in his data – was the difference between people’s priorities on specific issues like abortion and same-sex marriage and that catch-all phrase moral values, which seems to be quite high. It may be – and there are some previous studies done here at the Pew Research Center that support this – that moral values are a broader thing that include some of the social issues, but also include notions of honesty, integrity, good personal behavior, tolerance. So people are still very concerned with morality generally defined, but it is not necessarily these issues.
KEETER: In our August report on religion and politics that the Pew Forum and the People & the Press did together, we asked voters to describe the moral values of each of the candidates, as well as themselves. Then we plotted out where people put themselves and where they put the candidates. Evangelicals put McCain much closer to themselves on the moral-values dimension than they put Obama. He is far, far off to the left. There is a very revealing graphic on this in the report.
LUGO: I’m surprised more was not made of that finding actually. I thought that was quite interesting. Carl?
CARL CANNON, READER’S DIGEST: I have a clarification for John. The “trifecta” for McCain was first, Saddleback, and third, Palin. What was the second thing?
LUGO: The second one was the Republican platform on issues like abortion and gay marriage.
CANNON: Okay. Then I wanted to ask John, why do you think the Sarah Palin pick hit evangelicals in their sweet spot? This data you have here is the baseline data, but you have seen the recent stuff. What are your thoughts on that?
GREEN: I think there are a couple of things going on there. From the point of view of many evangelicals, I think it is her pro-life record. It is not just the fact that she has a position on that, but that she seems to have been living it out in her life. I think that is a really important part.
Also, she is very articulate. Many of the things other people, besides evangelicals, like about Sarah Palin reinforce that pro-life position. So I think that is what is going on there. Of course, she is relatively new even to evangelicals. It will be interesting to see how well she wears over the next several weeks.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: I was really interested in what both of you talked about, especially the persuadables. John, you mentioned that this was not going to be a campaign of mobilizing the base. What I am wondering is whether what we have seen on television and in the bounce since the Republican convention will turn out to be illusory. This was the base we were seeing. These are the people that were going to be with McCain either way.
I guess I have a twofold question. One is could we now see this base mobilized and see more evangelicals who might have sat home now coming out for McCain? Would that make a big difference? Or in fact, is it more illusion and that when we get down to the election itself, what they will be focusing on is not on the base, but on the independent persuadables?
GREEN: These are relative things. In the jargon of the political operatives and even of political scientists, both mobilizing the base of one’s party and reaching out to the persuadables, the independents, are important. You probably can’t win a presidential election without doing both.
What I meant to say was that this election is different from 2004. And that since there were relatively few persuadables by the time of the fall campaign in 2004, the great emphasis of both the Kerry and the Bush campaign was on mobilizing their bases. It is certainly going to be important for both sides to mobilize their bases now.
Coming into the conventions, many people noted that neither party’s base was united. Both of them had some work to do at their conventions to pull their troops together. And I think your insight is correct: Much of what we have been seeing over the last two weeks may, in fact, be the pulling of the Democratic base and the Republican base together in preparation for the struggle for the middle, which is a more conventional kind of American presidential election, by the way, than a strictly base-mobilization election.
So we may be seeing that happen. I don’t know if I would say it is illusory. But it may be that some of the bounce for Obama last week and for McCain this week comes from people in the middle who have heard some good things about these candidates and are motivated to move in one direction. But then when they hear from the other side again, they will move back. So it may be that the net effect of the conventions is to pull together the bases, and then we will have this big argument about the persuadables, the people in the middle. Scott?
KEETER: Exactly. I think the size of McCain’s bounce came from two sources. One was pulling the base voters, in particular the religious voters, in. My prediction would be that those voters are not going away, that he is going to get a greater effort in terms of turnout and organizing – at least that is what I hear from the reporting – than he would have gotten if he had picked someone else.
The other half of his bump is coming from independents. Gallup is showing McCain leading among independents when he was not leading among independents or was at least tied prior to the conventions. That could be more ephemeral just by the very nature of who independents are. I think that is really where the election is going to be fought.
LUGO: So do you see a certain division of labor appearing here on the Republican side with Sarah Palin watching McCain’s back and mobilizing his constituency with which, as we said, he was not all that comfortable – the evangelical constituency and conservative Catholics and others – so that he can then turn his attention to appealing to independents and moderates? Is that the tactical logic here behind that pick?
KEETER: That sounds like a good description of the logic of the tactics. The question I have on my mind is: How will Palin, in that role, wear with the independent voters? Historically it has been difficult to do both of those things effectively at the same time – to throw the red meat to your supporters, and, at the same time, avoid turning off the independent voters who may not share all of those positions with you on issues like abortion.
WENDY KAMINER, THE BOSTON PHEONIX: I have two questions. In [the data you showed us] earlier, [there is] some social conservative disillusionment – you talk about a decrease in the sense that religion ought to be part of political life, especially among conservatives. You suggest that might be a result of some disenchantment. I am wondering if you think the Sarah Palin pick and the surge we have just seen from McCain might change that.
Secondly, I find all of these surveys together very interesting. I look at them, and I think either I have a bad case of cognitive dissonance or else the survey respondents do, because if you just take a look at the general trends, if you look at things like decreasing social conservatives and decreasing religious intensity, and then you were going to predict candidate preferences, you would not come out where we are.
Now, that is not entirely surprising because obviously there are a lot of intangibles, a lot of other factors that enter into people’s decisions. My question is how do you evaluate the importance of all these factors in where people eventually come out – either in party affiliation or in candidate preferences?
LUGO: It is a hard question. Go ahead, Scott. You are the director of research at the Pew Research Center, so the buck stops with you.
KEETER: How do we sort out the importance of the different factors? Let me be specific, and then maybe I can punt the rest of the answer to one of my colleagues. We were quite intrigued and perhaps, I should admit, even surprised by the finding that there has been a significant increase in the number of conservatives and Republicans who say they don’t want churches involved in [politics] compared to four years ago. It would be understating it to say we ransacked the data to find a good explanation for that.
But I would point out that even though this is a long-term trend that has been remarkably stable for a long time, the change we have seen is not a dramatic one. We are talking about a few percentage points on the total sample, with larger changes among the conservatives but large enough among the conservatives to move the national number. My personal feeling is that it probably represents some combination of generalized disenchantment with the role of religious groups and a reaction to Rev. Wright – a feeling that, first of all, the Democrats are doing a better job of organizing in churches and doing the things that the Republicans have been so good at, and that maybe having the churches so engaged is not necessarily going to yield an advantage to the conservative cause.
Second, they have seen an example of church involvement in religion – or what they might interpret as that – that they didn’t like. But I don’t think that ultimately is going to have a very big impact on the way public opinion is going to shape up in this campaign. I think the things we have been talking about are more easily used to explain where we are right now.
GREEN: One of the interesting things about that question is – and we have asked it for a while now – it is about the involvement of churches, or houses of worship. It is not necessarily about the involvement of religion or religious values. It could be that the much more diverse number of groups involved in the campaign trying to connect religious values to politics is reflected in some of that disillusionment among conservatives.
It could also reflect disillusionment with President Bush. People are disillusioned with President Bush in dozens of different ways. It would hardly be surprising if this particular group of conservative voters would be disillusioned. After all, they had very, very high hopes for him.
But let me get to your point about cognitive dissonance. There is a lot of cognitive dissonance in the public. But some of it is perhaps more illusory than real. It is important to remember that American religion is fantastically diverse. We look at trends, for instance, the growth of the number of unaffiliated voters – very significant and important trend – but still, most people in America have religious affiliations. So if one simply took the trend in the number of unaffiliated and the attitudes associated with the absence of religious affiliation, one might come to the conclusion that American society is moving in a culturally liberal direction. And in fact, we have some other evidence to suggest that, indeed, that is happening.
But religious conservatives have not gone away. In fact, those trends may intensify their involvement in politics. So one has to be a bit careful about extrapolating directly from trends because there is so much else going on in American society and religion.
LUGO: That question it has always troubled me. This is confession time here. We have a trend on it, so it is helpful. But I think it tends to conflate a couple of things, which is churches or religious leaders speaking on social issues, public issues, et cetera – The minute you put the word “political” in there – that is the way it is termed, right? – social and political issues, it suggests partisanship of some kind, and certainly when you ask that in the context of a presidential campaign –
I think it is not quite clear to people, frankly, what is involved there. If we are talking about expressions of religion in public life, a strong majority say, It is either the right amount or not enough of it. If we ask, “What about preachers endorsing candidates from the [pulpit?]” the [results are] equally strong on the other side; “No, that’s not right.”
So it is yes to religion and public life; no to politics in the pulpit. I think that question is the swing question here, and I think it has elements of both – so I am not entirely surprised that we tend to get a much narrower split in our answers to that question. I think the movement, particularly among conservatives and evangelicals, had a lot to do with Jeremiah Wright.
SALLY QUINN, WASHINGTON POST-NEWSWEEK’S “ON FAITH”: We haven’t talked about race. When we talk about religion, I think you can’t separate the idea of race because it is always there in the background. Three percent of people will actually say they couldn’t vote for Obama because he is black – sorry, that’s three out of 10 – they are actually the ones who are telling the truth. How many of those people who say that race doesn’t matter are not telling the truth? What number of evangelical Christians do you think might feel race is an issue here?
LUGO: That is what is keeping you and Andy awake at night, isn’t it, Scott?
KEETER: Yes, it is.
LUGO: (Cross talk) – the old Bradley effect.
KEETER: I don’t think race is gone as a reason for people deciding what they decide in politics – far from it. But first of all, we don’t see numbers as large as three in 10 saying they wouldn’t vote for Obama because he is black. It is much smaller in our polling. In the exit polls in the primaries, for example, the exit pollsters had a question about how important the candidate’s race was to your vote. Presumably people who were willing to admit they didn’t vote for Obama because he was black would say it was very important.
Among those people, the break would be all Hillary and no Obama. In fact, in some of the states, in particular in Pennsylvania, where the question was raised often, the number was well under 20 percent of white voters. Even among those who said it was very important, you didn’t have unanimous voting for Hillary. So the size of the group that is at least willing to admit that race is a factor is still quite small. I wouldn’t dispute that this is a sensitive question in polls. And obviously, this is something that keeps us up at night because those of us who are old enough to remember the 1980s contest not only of Tom Bradley, but of Doug Wilder in Virginia, a race that I polled in, and on the same day the day of the [David] Dinkins-Rudy Giuliani mayoral race in New York, to know that the polling was wrong, that it understated the support for the white candidate in all of those instances. And again, in the next year in North Carolina, in the Harvey Gantt-Jesse Helms race.
We don’t have a good way to get at this with our polls. We have tried a couple of things. One is we ask questions about racial values, things like whether people approve or disapprove of black-white dating. It is not exactly a question about how race factors into the vote. But we can show that among less-educated white Democrats that that question has a very strong correlation with how people say they are going to vote. So we know that race is a consideration for them.
We have also looked at the race of the interviewer and the race of the respondent in the surveys working off the theory that if there is some sensitivity to the question, it would be grayer when a white respondent is being interviewed by a black interviewer than by a white interviewer. We don’t see a significant race-of-interviewer difference in our polling.
And then, just a little bit of recent history: I am not trying to whistle by the graveyard here, but two years ago, we had five statewide elections across the country that involved black candidates and white candidates. And in every one of those, there was a fair amount of pre-election polling. In all of those cases, the pre-election polling was accurate. The most instructive case was the Tennessee Senate race between Harold Ford, Jr., and Bob Corker. And in that race, there were three pre-election polls done very close to the election. All of those said Corker would win by a small margin, and that is what happened. He won by a small margin.
I am not saying race isn’t a factor anymore. And I won’t deny that we are concerned about the potential for misjudging it on the basis of what people are willing to say to us. But I think, for a couple of reasons, the Bradley effect may be gone. One is that we didn’t see it two years ago. Admittedly, those were not presidential elections, but it didn’t show up in several places where it could have shown up. Second, we do know that over time, over the 20 years that has elapsed since the elections of the late 1980s, there has been a significant drop in the number of people who are opposed to interracial dating and who have expressed an unwillingness to vote for a black candidate.
Now, we could say that political correctness has increased over that 20 years. But we also know that younger people are more likely to express racially tolerant attitudes. There has been a lot of cohort change over this last 20 years, so there is a reason to believe Americans are more open to the idea of a black candidate than they were 20 years ago. For those reasons, I am willing to trust the polls – not that there aren’t racial considerations in voting, but that it is not as big a factor as it was. And hopefully we won’t be misled.
JANE LITTLE, BBC: Sarah Palin is so associated with the religious right. I interviewed Richard Land over the weekend, who said callers to his phone-in show were universally ecstatic about it. He talked about it in terms of pro-life and anti-gay marriage [issues.]
Could there be any evidence to suggest, though, that this could backfire with certain constituencies [who might see] McCain as having sold out to the religious right? There were Republicans who were quite pleased. They thought the era of the religious right was over. Independents might be less eager to see the culture wars returning.
GREEN: Absolutely. That is entirely possible. American political parties are large, unwieldy coalitions. The closer the election, the more important the composition of that coalition becomes and the greater the friction among the different groups. This is not unique, however, to Sarah Palin and evangelicals in the Republican Party. It happens in the Democratic Party, as well, with other groups.
So there is a real danger or a real possibility – danger from the point of view of McCain, but possibility from the point of view of an analyst – that the appeal Sarah Palin has to evangelicals and other religious conservatives could, in fact, drive off other groups.
Now, some of the people who are expressing concern about her issue positions – to be perfectly frank about it – are people who probably wouldn’t have voted for McCain anyway, right? But that is part of the discussion, when you have liberal folks and secular activists saying, “This woman is really associated with the religious right,” then that gets that information out there. So there are real dangers. This gets to one of the chief jobs of a presidential candidate, which is to manage their coalitions.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: I just wanted to add an answer to John’s answer from Carl Cannon’s question about enthusiasm among evangelicals and what occurred there. I have a friend who is head of a religiously conservative organization here in town. She was in a meeting on the Friday before the convention with 40 religious conservative leaders, all of them depressed, down, worried. They were all convinced Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman was going to be the nominee.
And when the announcement came at 11 a.m., they all – in a room like this – stood up and gave a standing ovation. Now, probably many in the room didn’t know much about Sarah Palin. But I think – just to add to John’s answer – what really got to them was they were surprised at John McCain, that their whole view of McCain changed. They had been so down on him, and the fact that he would make this choice caused them to reevaluate him.
Now, there are some in that movement who say, “He is going to let you down.” But right now they were both pleased by the pick and surprised by the pick. I think that is party enthusiasm. The only other thing I would add anecdotally, without mentioning any names. I had several calls that day from journalist friends, concerned about the pregnancy of Bristol and that this might shatter evangelical support for John McCain.
And as I said to several of them, actually the opposite occurred – the fact that he didn’t [see it as] disqualifying was something that caused their enthusiasm to actually increase. In this discussion, we must not confuse evangelicalism with American fundamentalism, which would have a different response, I think.
LUGO: Mike, you have dropped the big distinction. People are finally getting acclimated here and around the world to the term “evangelical” and now we throw Pentecostal into the mix. It is a whole reeducation project all over again. Now you are throwing out fundamentalist. Just quickly, how do you describe the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists?
CROMARTIE: I think Professor Grant Wacker at Duke has the best definition. An evangelical is somebody who really, really likes Billy Graham. And a fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a liberal. (Laughter.)
But I would just quickly say there is a militant style of fundamentalism that is legalistic, judgmental, and far more intolerant than evangelicals. Evangelicals broke away from fundamentalism because of those very attributes and said, ”You are not even being faithful to the very creed of what you profess.” So there is a difference, a softening.
The other point is that so many of these megachurches have Bristol Palins in their churches. And they know them personally. Crisis pregnancy centers that have grown out of megachurches are familiar with this sort of dilemma for any family.
LUGO: Mike, I know you are not a numbers guy, but just to give folks a sense of perspective here –
CROMARTIE: I may surprise you. I have the numbers.
LUGO: I know for basketball statistics and all that, you are great. But if you would just take the whole world of evangelicalism, what percentage of that world would the fundamentalist segment of evangelicalism constitute? Are we talking 10, 20, 30 percent?
CROMARTIE: I will be glad for John Green or Allen Hertzke to correct me on this, but I think American fundamentalism of that larger percentage would be less than 10 percent.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: That is different from Pentecostalism –
LUGO: We are just talking about fundamentalists and – (cross talk).
CROMARTIE: American fundamentalism is dying. American evangelicalism is growing.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: We are in a Pentecostal spin in.
LUGO: John, sort out these three big groups. Mike has gotten us started on fundamentalists, because again, we call all of these people evangelicals in our polling. Keep in mind that “evangelical” is this rubric that encompasses fundamentalists; it encompasses Pentecostals; and then it encompasses everybody else who is an evangelical, but neither of those other two things. So sort out for us, John, as quickly as you can, those three groups.
GREEN: Scholars have found it useful, and we use this conclusion in our polling, to identify the evangelical Protestant tradition, which is a group of denominations and non-denominational churches and religious movements that share certain historical roots and doctrinal positions.
I would be happy to go into that in great detail if you all want to hear about it. But within that larger group, there are distinctions. The three groups that we are talking about – fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and evangelicals, originally known as neo-evangelicals – are religious movements among these religious communities. In some ways in the United States, the most successful of those movements is the neo-evangelicals. In fact, that is why the tradition is known by that term.
Fundamentalists were the least successful of that group, although fundamentalism has had an impact far beyond the numbers of card-carrying fundamentalists, who make up a small portion of the broader evangelical tradition.
Pentecostals, on the other hand, have been enormously successful – successful in the United States, but even more successful worldwide. In fact, the positions would be reversed outside of the boundaries of the United States. Pentecostalism is, in certain doctrinal terms, very similar to the neo-evangelicals or evangelicals broadly defined. But it has its special attributes. In fact, each of these groups have their special attributes. So it is a little bit confusing, but one way to think about this is these are first cousins in a large Protestant family.
LUGO: We have coming out on Thursday in our newsletter an analysis based on the Religious Landscape Survey of the differences in the religious practices and political attitudes between members of those evangelical churches who are evangelical and those who are Pentecostal. We made that distinction.
We complicate things a little bit more by also bringing in black Pentecostals. That is another story that hasn’t quite surfaced with Palin. The person who organized the Democratic convention is a Pentecostal minister, Leah Daughtry. And Obama’s faith outreach guy [Joshua DuBois] is a Pentecostal minister. There is a lot of Pentecostalism in the African-American community, so it gets a little complicated. We will try to sort all of that out. Sorry, you will have to wait for another report when it comes to fundamentalists; they are a declining number, so we keep our eye on the bigger and growing groups.
CROMARTIE: Just to add quickly, Luis, on the Pentecostal side, that one thing that would distinguish them is the emphasis on subjective experience, in ways that even evangelicals are uncomfortable with oftentimes.
UNIDENTIFIED: What do you mean by that?
CROMARTIE: What I mean by that is that there is an emphasis on the power of the third person of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit, to work individually in their lives in a moment-by-moment way, oftentimes in miraculous ways. And when you ask them for proof of that, they can’t give you any proof other than, “It is my experience.”
LUGO: Okay, that is an evangelical talking about Pentecostals. But they would point to –
LUGO: That is right. They would say, “Look at the evidence in speaking in tongues and prophesying and so forth.” You get a taste of the intramural [differences,] which at some point in history, by the way, was just more than a squabble between evangelicals and –
CROMARTIE: I meant that very charitably. (Laughter.)
CHRIS LEHMANN, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: I just wanted to follow up on the persuadables survey work. You mentioned you did a separate set of questions on foreign policy. Did you do anything on the economy because one thing that struck me, especially watching Palin’s acceptance speech, was – this was my form of cognitive dissonance. There were all these rhetorical feints and applause lines to trumpet her identity as a hockey mom, as a working-class person like the average American.
But so far as I could tell, the only economic policy position she referenced in the speech was repeal of the estate tax. To me, that signaled a couple of things. That signaled a real vulnerability for the McCain ticket, where he had already confessed he knew very little about the economy. We in the press, I think, are guilty of taking that rhetoric at its word and not asking which policies benefit the varied demographic Sarah Palin allegedly symbolizes.
KEETER: We didn’t include any other economic questions in this survey other than the one that John showed – the health insurance question. A month before, we had done a survey devoted to economic issues, and we could go back and take a look at that, try to break that out the same way. But I don’t think we have any evidence to speak directly to your question on that right now.
GREEN: We do have a little bit of evidence on economic priorities. And persuadables are very concerned about the economy. But so is everybody else. So it is one of those universal concerns that people have. What that means in political terms is that both candidates have to address the issue. And people’s decisions will be made upon how exactly they address those issues.
LUGO: Just to get back to Pentecostals and Sarah Palin’s background. I think you will note in the analysis that we will release that Pentecostals are more socially conservative than evangelicals and more economically liberal than evangelicals, which is interesting. It is more of a big-government social conservatism that has a strong populist streak. That seems to come naturally to that tradition, which I think is quite interesting.
JACQUI SALMON, WASHINGTON POST: Just wanted to check: The trifecta that McCain appears to have hit with Saddleback and the platform and Palin among evangelicals – is it also a trifecta among Catholics?
GREEN: It could certainly help with Catholics. As I indicated, we don’t have a lot of good polling on the effect of Saddleback. We will start seeing some good polling very soon – in fact, next week, from the People & the Press on Sarah Palin. I know from interviews I have done that there was a very positive reaction among pro-life Catholics to the Republican platform.
So it may be that these types of activities help McCain with conservative Catholics. Of course, the Catholic community is a large, diverse community, and it is much more heterogeneous than the evangelical community in political terms. So it may not help him as much overall. As you can see in our August survey, and other people have showed a similar thing, Catholics are pretty divided. That means there is some room for that change to make a difference.
LUGO: Thank you, Scott Keeter, John Green, and thank you all of you for participating.
This written transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling, grammar and accuracy by Andrea Useem.